How to engage your customers at home

Jonathan Ryan – April 24, 2020

There’s one new reality of all our lives life during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re all at home, and we’re here to stay for a while.

Normally, if we find ourselves at a loose end we might go and see a movie. Or go to a pub, club, or restaurant. But thanks to social distancing and lockdowns, there’s nowhere for us to go. We’re looking for things to do and our attention, as it often does in idle moments, turns to our phones.

We’re using them to check what’s new on Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, Twitch and Amazon Prime. We’re using them to tweet, scroll through TikTok, use Facebook and stream content. They’re our primary device for getting breaking news about the pandemic and the larger world that seems so distant right now.

This means that whatever your business offers, there is a bigger opportunity than ever to reach customers on the device they’re using all day to maintain a line of communication.

The new retail environment

Here in Australia shopping centres and malls aren’t officially closed, but people are staying away in droves following government directives to stay home and stay safe. With very little foot traffic, online sales have become the only way that many retailers are able to keep the lights on. This has caused a surge in home delivery.

If you’re suddenly faced with an influx of online orders, SMS is a great way to keep customers in the loop about delivery times, and the day they should be receiving their purchases – particularly if there are delays or stock changes. Consumers are understanding about the predicament of businesses at the moment, but they want to know where their purchases are. A quick message update lets them know without having to submit feedback forms or email requests. Or worse, dial into a call centre.

Mobile messaging is also an ideal way to keep customers informed about new stock, sales events and more. They’re not going in store, so they won’t find these things out organically. If they can’t come to you, you need to go to them. Make sure you get the cadence right and don’t overwhelm your customers with messages.

With mobile messaging, you can engage customers in isolation with more creative or entertaining communications too. Think outside the box – you can create an interactive, 2-way game via text message. Or host a competition that asks the online community to sign up with their mobile number to receive a ‘Golden Ticket’ coupon code, sent randomly via SMS to a new winner every week.

At-home dining

Many restaurants are transitioning from dine-in services to delivery and pick up to remain in business. While the tables and chairs are gone, there’s still good food to be had.

But without foot traffic, it’s essential to keep patrons informed about new operations. Consider a weekly text message to customers about your new dishes and special deals. Or send alerts to let them know about changed operating hours any new pick up arrangements.

With mobile messaging, you can keep your customers in the know, making it easy for them to continue buying from you and ensuring you maintain brand awareness and regular service throughout this unpredictable time.

Updating travellers

COVID-19 has severely impacted travel – domestic and international. Airlines are cutting flights, hotels are enforcing new rules for guests and countries are closing borders to contain the spread of the pandemic.

Travel agents, airlines and other transport companies need to keep customers informed about any travel and accommodation changes that affect them. And SMS is the perfect way to get the message out quickly to everyone.

If you’re an airline that has cancelled flights or a hotel that has changed accommodation arrangements, include links to information webpages in the message or initiate a 2-way conversation. This gives customers the opportunity to get back to you with any queries and concerns they might have around their travel, showing that you care about them and their plans.

One travel website is using a text-based support service to relieve pressure on telephone support staff and give customers an alternative means of raising a query. Users can opt in over telephone, or text JOIN to a short code to start receiving SMS or MMS messages – whatever their device supports. Then they’re ready to figure out their next move, with the help of messages like: “Due to the impact of COVID-19, the hotel you booked is allowing for cancellation within a certain period of time. We can go ahead and cancel your booking now.”

Maintaining connection

While everyone stays home, at least for the short term, telecommunication companies are under increased strain to keep internet services up and running.

We’re all relying on internet for nearly everything: essential updates, shopping, entertainment, work and learning.  If there’s an internet outage, customers need to know about any drops in coverage or service, and they need to know fast.

Amdocs in India uses SMS alerts when there’s an IT issue affecting users. The messaging provides clear, empathetic, up-to-the-second information about servers and networks to all the users affected, slowing the expected flood of phone calls to a trickle.

Any key service provider needs to use accessible communications channels, and mobile messaging is the perfect way to quickly get the word out to the households affected by downtime and provide updates on timing and customer support.

Health providers

One of the few reasons we should be outside is if we need to receive essential health assistance. What do you do if you need medical information or want to connect with health and wellbeing professionals?

For GPs, mental health practitioners and other specialists, using SMS to check in on COVID-19 patients self- isolating at home can alleviate mental health issues that arise from so much time alone. It’s also helpful in monitoring the on-going health of the patient.

Patients can use SMS themselves to organise re-appointments with health practitioners. Sending out a timely SMS to remind patients of upcoming appointments can get ahead of potential issues, avoid unexpected cancellations and help to assign staff to shifts as needed.

If a customer can’t make the appointment, SMS also gives them the option to reschedule in minutes without needing to speak to someone on the phone or wait for the back-and-forth of an email conversation.

Reach them where they live

The world doesn’t stop while we’re stuck indoors, and neither does your business. You still need to reach your customers with essential information, useful updates and timely offers. They’re relying on you, arguably more than they ever have. For health advice, for online purchases, for updates on their internet connection and for food and essentials.

While they’re glued to their phones, SMS is the best way to reach them.

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